Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pristine Mississippi island to get pier and barge with restrooms and snack bar

       A 170-foot public access pier and floating barge with restrooms and snack bars will soon be installed on the north shore of Deer Island, the office of the Mississippi Secretary of State (MSOS) announced in a press release today.
        A commercial charter boat service will make round trips to the island from the mainland once the construction--set to begin this summer--is complete.
       Deer Island is a slender, sandy four-mile long uninhabited island in Mississippi Sound about a mile south of Casino Row and U.S. 90 in Biloxi, MS.  The island is a great blue heron rookery and is used by brown pelicans and cormorants as a wintering habitat. It is home to osprey, loggerhead turtles and in the marsh flanking a tidal creek at the island's eastern end American alligators lurk.
        The MSOS administers and supervises the state's Public Trust Tidelands which include Deer Island.  The island was purchased over a decade ago when there were concerns it might be developed into a casino resort.  There has been no development on the island, discovered in 1699, in more than 70 years.
         The island is popular with small boaters seeking solitude, many making the short crossing to the deserted island's sandy beaches from Biloxi or Ocean Springs in canoes and kayaks.   Some come to the island to view the island's rich bird life, others to primitive camp.  At one point the island is just a third of a mile from busy mainland Biloxi.
         Public officials tout the pier, restrooms, snack bar and shuttles as a way of providing access to the island for those who do not have boats.
       "All Mississippians should have access to our public lands, regardless if they have a boat," said Mississippi Secretary of State, Delbert Hoseman said in the press release announcing the project.
       The $360,000 project was recently approved by the US Corp of Engineers.  Funding will come from state Tideland Funds, allocated by the Coast delegation of the Mississippi Legislature.
       A shuttle to the island could boost the Boloxi area as an eco-tourism destination, encouraging visitors to the Gulf Coast to stay another day, said Jamie Miller, executive director for the state's Department of Marine Resources.
       Natural barriers will limit visitors without boats of their own to the broad sand beaches that line the western and southern parts of the island.  Along much of the island's northshore erosion at the water's edge has exposed extensive mangrove-like root systems, making walking there difficult.  To the east is a broad salt water marsh.  A 30-foot storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, inundated the island with saltwater killing what was already a thin stand of pine trees.  Between the salt marsh to the southeast and the broad beach wrapping around the island's western tip, much of the island's interior is covered with prickly saw palmetto and sticker bushes preventing crossing the island on foot.  There are no developed trails on the island.
       (A comment (see below) said students from Mississippi State recently established trails on the island and that a sign about the trails is on the island's north shore across from Harrah's Casino on the mainland.)
        Since Hurricana Katrina the Department of Marine Resources has completed several projects to slow or stop erosion of the island.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ideas sought at New Orleans bicycle advocacy forum

WELL I'LL BE DAN!  Dan Jatres (l) Program Manager, Greater New Orleans Pedestrian and Bicycle Program,  Regional Planning Commission (RPC) and Dan Favre, Executive Director for BikeEasy, a bicycle advocacy group in New Orleans, relax at the NOLA Bike to Work Week Community Forum April 21, 2015

      Bicycling advocates, both professional and just interested folks, recently held a forum to discuss and plan what they would like the future of bicycling in New Orleans to be like.    Of the four dozen or so advocates attending the meeting--one event in "NOLA Bike to Work Week" presented by Entergy,  some were urban planners who contribute to the design and implementation of bicycling facilities, others were paid heads of cycling advocacy groups and some were volunteeers in those groups.  There were a sprinkling of  city government representatives.  But many sitting on the hard plastic chairs behind folding tables topped with maps, pens and colored markers, in the Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center near Treme, had no skin in the urban planning game other than just wanting to contribute their say about the cycling life in the Crescent City now. 
       Like Dean Gray.  Speaking for stolenbikesnola, a Facebook site dedicated to combating the recent rash of bicycle thefts in the French Quarter, Gray rose to speak late in the meeting to encourage those who have had their bikes stolen to file a report with the police.
        "The police will not press charges if there is no police report, even if the bicycle is recovered," Gray said.
      Pictures of stolen bikes posted on Facebook, a social media site, has led to the recovery of some of them.  But if there is no police report with a bicycle serial number there is very little the owner of the stolen bike can do to prove the bicycle is his.
        Filling out a report requires a visit to the district police station in the district the bike is stolen but the report is easy to fill out and the officers in the Eight District, where most of the thefts are now occurring, are very helpful, Gray said.
       Grey, who said he became interested in the issue when thieves stole a bike he gave to his girlfriend, strongly advised riders not to rely on cable locks, which can easily be cut with bolt cutters, to prevent bicycle theft.  Instead use stronger, more resistant to cutting and more expensive, "U" locks. Also when locking a bicycle, carefully inspect what you are locking it to.  To steal bikes in New Orleans, thieves have cut metal sign posts, like the metal posts with parking regulation signs, from their concrete bases then reinserted the posts into the ground using easy to remove PVC pipe sleeves. Gray said he found six posts in the French Quarter that have been altered in this way.
      The meeting opened with a brief but wide-ranging panel discussion of where bicycling is now in New Orleans and where it should go.  The group then broke up into smaller discussion groups which presented the fruits of their discussions at the end of the evening on big sheets if butcher paper taped to the wall.
        The panelists were Eric Griggs, M.D., Rachel Heiligman of Ride New Orleans, Jennifer Ruley, with the Louisiana Public Health Institute and Charlie Thomas, from Bike Law Louisiana.  The panel moderator was Sophie Harris of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor.
         The welcome was given by Dan Favre and Jamie Wine.  Favre, on the job as BikeEasy's new executive director for a whole seven days, told the group that while much had been done, there "is a long way to go."
         Speakers touted the nearly 100 miles of bicycle routes now in New Orleans.  Charlie Thomas, a lawyer who defends cyclists in court told the group two cautionary tales of what cyclists might expect when seeking a court remedy.  (What Thomas said will be the subject of a future post.)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Joyce WMA Swamp Walk south of Pontchoula is 25.

Swamp Walk in Joyce WMA near Ponchatoula, LA.
          The marshes and swamps of  27,487 acre Joyce Wildlife Management Area, south of Ponchatoula, LA are accessible only boat.  A beautiful exception is the scenic boardwalk at the northwestern corner of the preserve off I-55.
       First installed 25 years ago, the boardwalk was recently refurbished with new planking and reopened.  It had been closed for two years due to damage from Hurricane Isaac.
       The boardwalk is a convenient haven for bird watching, nature photography and general nature study.  The boardwalk extends 1000 feet through a dense cypress/tupelo canopy and ends overlooking a mix of shrub marsh and wetland "prairie."
        Joyce WMA is home to a variety of birdlife (some duck species live there year around) and is popular with neotropical migrants plying the Mississippi flyway each spring and fall.  Joyce WMA is listed as an American Wetland Birding Trial.
       Eagles have been known to nest nearby, osprey too.
       A brochure produced when the boardwalk was first opened in June of 1990 claims some common animals likely to be found include nutria, grey squirrels, raccoon, muskrat, mink, otter and white-tailed deer.
      Turtles, skinks and lots of frog species make the swamp home and might be visible to the quiet and patient visitor.
       Near the boardwalk are animals to be wary of.  Wildlife officers say alligators may be seen from the deck at the end of the boardwalk hiding in the dense floating green vegetation.  Many snakes, some poisonous such as the western cottonmouth, may be seen slithering through the slime.
         It being a swamp expect stinging insects almost year around.  (Mosquitoes can be active any time of the year when temperatures are above 56 degrees.)  Biting deer flies are out in force in the late spring.  Wear long sleeves and long pants and use insect repellent to protect from these flying pests.  Poison ivy is abundant; some of it is within easy reach of the boardwalk.
       The trip to the boardwalk from the hard-packed dirt parking lot off US 51 is over an active railroad track.  WATCH FOR TRAINS!  THIS IS A BUSY RAILROAD!  SEE HOW SHINY THE TRACK SURFACE IS?  The walk also requires traversing about 15 feet of loose gravel ballast then stepping up about a foot onto a railroad tie, crossing the single track then stepping back down onto the ballast on the other side.
       The rules for dogs in WMAs are complicated but if you are not actively hunting something that is normally hunted with dogs you cannot bring a dog into a WMA.
        If the water in the swamp is up is may be explored by canoe or kayak but the trip may not be an easy float.  Two ditches extend in a straight line east from US 51 (look for some hard packed parking lots and gates).  The ditches may be blocked with branches and deadfalls.
        Paddlers could launch at the big boat launch at North Pass and head east.  The low railroad bridge prevents most motorboats from entering but you may see some motorboats entering from the Lake Pontchartrain end.  Enter Middle Bayou for a trip through a scrub marsh.  Do not do this trip without a map, a compass and maybe a GPS.  There is nowhere to get out of the boat.

Driving Directions

       Driving south on I-55 take Exit 23 (Frontage Rd.).  Frontage Rd. ends at a "T" intersection with US 51. Entrance to the parking lot is immediately to the east across US 51.  Driving north on I-55 take Exit 15 (Manchac), turn left on US 51 and drive north.  The parking lot is on the right just before US 51 becomes one-way north to merge with I-55.

Access to the boardwalk

       This is a good time to talk about access to the state wildlife management areas in Louisiana.  You must have a LWF license to step on to a Louisiana Wildlife Management Area.  Kids younger than 16 years old and seniors 60 years of age and older are exempted.  Most people call all WMA licenses "hunting licenses."  True enough, most of the dozen or more LWF licenses permit some short of consumptive behavior, i.e. hunting, fishing, trapping and the like.  And there are commercial licenses to regulate the harvesting of seafood.
        But there is also a LWF license for those who want to visit these scenic preserves to watch birds, photograph wildlife or just enjoy some hiking.  The Wild Louisiana Stamp gives these "non-consumptive" users access to WMAs across the state.  Called the "birdwatcher stamp" by some, Wild Louisiana Stamps valid for one day are $2.00.  An annual license is $9.50 and and expires June 30.  A Wild Louisiana Stamp is valid for everyone, Louisiana residents or not, and the fee is the same for everyone.  (Non-Louisiana residents pay much higher fees for other WLF licenses.)
        Revenues from the sale of Wild Louisiana Stamps, introduced in 1993, generate revenues to support the functions of the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program.  The "stamp" is no longer a stamp. It is now a slip of paper that looks like a cash register receipt.
        So if you are at the boardwalk entrance at Joyce WMA reading the rules and wondering how you can meet the license requirement easily, just whip out your smartphone and credit card.  Call 1-888-765-2602.  After you pay the license fee and the added service charge you will get a license number you can use immediately.  Or if you plan ahead you can get licenses at the sporting goods department of any big box merchant.
        You need one other thing, in most cases, to be legal: A self-clearing permit.  They can be found at kiosks at the parking areas of most WMAs.  They are free.  They can also be downloaded and printed from www.wlf.louisiana.gov, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.  Print a few self-clearing permits in advance to keep in your glove compartment or tackle box so you will always have one if you park where there is no kiosk.  One part of the form is filled out with name and contact info and slipped into the box on the kiosk before you enter the WMA to alert the WMA staff that you are in the WMA.  The other part you keep on your person while in the WMA.  As you leave, fill it out and put it in the box at the kiosk.  It is basically a survey of how people spend their time while in a WMA.  If you engaged in an activity that is not listed, kayaking, canoeing or something else--WRITE IT IN!  This is a way of letting WLF officials know that WMAs are visited for reasons other than hunting and fishing.
     Most all of the above information is contained in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' website, www.wlf.louisiana.gov.  It is a very big site, most of it dealing with hunting and fishing issues.  Find Wild Louisiana Stamp information by clicking Licenses then Hunting.  General WMA rules are found under Hunting Regulations.  Self-clearing permits info is on page 55, dogs in WMAs on page 66.

NOTE:  If you do not hunt or fish, scanning the regulations governing these activities can be a window into a fascinating world.  Sportsmen and sportswomen spend plenty of time preparing for each hunting and fishing season, and learning the rules must be a large part of it.  Non-consumptive visitors to Louisiana WMAs owe a debt to hunters and fishers who, through fees and taxes on their gear, have contributed mightily to the acquisition and management of state lands we all enjoy.  The Swamp Walk, described above, was primarily funded by the Pittman-Robertson Fund established by Congress in 1937.  This federal revenue is generated by a tax paid by sportsmen purchasing rifles, shotguns ammunition and archery equipment. and is matched with state money, one dollar state money to three dollars of federal money.   Labor and lumber for the project was also donated by the Triangle T Sportsman's League.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lafitte Corridor path opening delayed till summer

Construction continues at the intersection of the Lafitte Corridor recreation path and N. Carrollton Ave.  Completion of the 2.6 mile path connecting the French Quarter in New Orleans and City Park is now set for early summer 2015
     The Lafitte Corridor, converting a largely derelict strip of land in the center of New Orleans to a skinny greenway stretching 2.6 miles from the French Quarter to lower Lakeview near City Park will be "fully open to the public by early summer 2015," reports the March 31 edition of the "Greenway Gazette," the digital newsletter of the Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (FOLC).  Construction officially began about a year ago.

When the bike path opens, riders
will have access to this bicycle
workstation complete with air pump
near N. Carrollton Ave. 
       The right-of-way was first the Carondelet Canal, completed in 1794, a small but critical waterway for small ships entering New Orleans using Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John.  Much later the canal was filled in and it became a route into the city for the old Norfolk Southern Railroad.
       When complete the paved path will connect Basin St., the northern boundary of the French Quarter with N. Alexander St., a street leading to the City Park Ave. entrance to City Park two blocks away. 
        In the Treme neighborhood, near the F.Q., the corridor is wide with space for developed ball fields and recreation areas.  As the corridor moves northwest it narrows containing only the 12 foot wide path.
       The park was to open in the late winter of this year but apparently the addition of a new bridge over a drainage canal and other items added after construction began delayed the project.